She’s got it all: brains and beauty. Her children are perfect. Her husband adores her.
She is that friend you don’t ask to be your bridesmaid because you want to be the most beautiful one in the pictures. Within Christian circles, she is revered and resented. We all aspire to be her, yet scorn her because at the end of the day, we just don’t measure up. She’s the Proverbs 31 woman.
Looking at our lives with hers as the backdrop can feel like comparing apples and oranges because they really aren’t anything alike. She’s married to a highly respected man; you’re single or divorced, possibly multiple times. She’s stable financially; you’re struggling between each paycheck. She’s got wonderful children who appreciate her, you’re barren.
Her excellence “sets such a high standard that it can be depressing to godly women today.”1 Anybody else ever been depressed after hanging out with Mrs. Proverbs 31 (Mrs. P31)? This lauded lady is one I’ve stared in the face a few different times. During growing seasons of my life, I look to her to understand what biblical womanhood is all about.
Now, I’m sitting down with her once again to glean wisdom as I approach some difficult decisions about ministry and family. And as I’ve visited with Mrs. P31 lately, some incredible truths about this woman have surprised and encouraged me in my journey of motherhood under grace. Let me share them with you.
She has help. Verse 15 says she provides food for her home “and portions for her maidens.” Maidens. As in, plural, multiple, more than one. She doesn’t do everything on her own! What this truth means for us: we need community. We need help. Everybody take a collective sigh of relief. It’s okay to not be wonder woman.
She works outside the home. Verse 16, “She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.” Now, everybody has a different opinion on whether mothers should work outside the home, but every mother reading this can ponder the fact that Mrs. P31 has children yet is, according to one commentary, “not confined to the home but is engaged in business.”2 Working mothers, find rest in this truth and be encouraged.
She is an ideal. Ideal–an ultimate object or aim of endeavor, especially one of high or noble character.3 The Proverbs 31 woman is a character type. Just like the wise and the fool throughout the rest of the book of Proverbs, she serves to help us “discern the many-sided fruits of godliness and ungodliness.”4 As an ideal, she guides our conduct and character formation, so she is an example toward which we are willing to be molded but “it is not expected that any one woman will look exactly like (her) in every respect.”5 Whew. That’s good news for me.
Her relationship with God is her most important quality. At the end of a long list of her excellent qualities, the pinnacle of these is her fear of the Lord. This feature comes at the end of the list which reminds us that it is more important than her great skill and talent. The godly woman may well have charm, beauty, industriousness and creativity, but these are all secondary to her growing relationship with the Lord.
The excellent wife is the Bride of Christ. The excellent wife of Proverbs 31 prefigures the Church, Christ’s Bride. In verse 22 we see her robed in “fine linen and purple,” much like the Bride in Revelation 19:7-8, “let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted to her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure.”
Isaiah 61:10 describes her clothing as “garments of salvation” and the “robe of righteousness.” Her gown of righteous deeds is her groom’s gift of grace.6This truth about the woman of excellence from Proverbs 31 is so encouraging to me! Sometimes the church isn’t pretty; in fact, it can be pretty ugly at times. But as daughters of the King, we are his bride, we are Proverbs 31 women. Our excellence is the wedding gift that Jesus alone gives: the grace of salvation.
1 ESV Study Bible Notes on Proverbs 31:10-31
2 ESV Study Bible Note on Proverbs 31:16, Crossway.
4 ESV Study Bible, Introduction to Proverbs.
5 ESV Study Bible Note on Proverbs 31:10
6 ESV Study Bible Note on Revelation 19:7-8